Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jacob’s First Squirrel Hunt

Since the kids are starting to grow up and as fall approaches my hunting season seems to become more absent as the years go by. This year is no exception to the rule. Here in Michigan the early goose season is immediately followed by the opener of small game season then early doe season along with the youth waterfowl weekend hunt all in about two weeks time.

The opening of these four seasons along with the fact that I now have three kids of hunting age has resulted in very little sleep and almost no hunting for me! You know what? I wouldn't have it any other way! This weekend was a tough decision to make for myself along with my two boys. We had to decide what we were going to tackle this weekend and try to make the most of if along with keeping all of us happy, well keeping the boys happy at least.

Jake Looking For Limb Bacon!

We or should I say they decided to opt for the waterfowl hunt on Saturday morning. The plan was to get both boys our for the youth waterfowl weekend which would be Jake's first waterfowl hunt over water. Now the problem was that where we were going to hunt was a marsh that was too deep for Jake to get into even with waders. Mike really wanted to go so I told him to go with my buddies and that I would take Jake out for his first ever small game hunt. Jake was cool with that since all he wanted to do was get out and harvest something since he was now old enough to hunt.

I took Mike up to Birch Run to meet fellow UNJ field staffer Chico Lopez who was going to take Mike out and meet up with Dave to hit the marsh that was a 4am wake-up call! I drove the half hour back home and got another 45 minutes of sleep before waking Jake up to hit the wood lot. It didn't take him long to get his gear together and pop into the truck. I managed to climb into the truck and get it pointed in the right direction. As we drove over to the state park Jake was a chatter box. He wanted to know exactly what to expect for the morning's hunt. I reassured him that all would work out and that I would take him to my new found location where the tree rats hang out.

As we wheeled into the park I was amazed that we were the only ones there! This was going to be great, it was 39 degrees, no wind, and the sun was starting to break the horizon! Perfect! We unloaded at the parking area and I loaded Jake's .22 mag bolt action Marlin rifle that he borrowed from Mike. I then loaded the little Winchester .22 mag lever action that I was going to carry. I made sure that the power was turned down on the rifle that Jake was going to use since he always seems to have a problem looking through a scope this scope was a Bushnell Banner series which worked well for him.

Once we got started down the trail into the wood lot I made Jake take the lead to see just how much he had remembered from Hunter's Safety, it didn't take long for me to see that he remembered all the safety lessons about carrying in the field. I watched him make the necessary carry switches depending on what obstacles he encountered. Don't tell me that a 10 year old doesn't understand firearm safety! As we made our way quietly through the woods, we would stop about every 20 or 30 yards to listen for sound and scan the tree tops for any movement. The woods were becoming alive and I could see the curiosity in Jake's eyes as he had that look on his face of "What was that sound?" I would ask him, "What do you think that was making that sound?" He would give me an answer and if he was right I would give him an ataboy! If not, I would try to let him figure it out without giving it away.

Walking through the wood lot, I would notice odd little things or features that I would point out to him for a later lesson on navigation through the woods. We finally settled up on a spot near where I had seen and heard some squirrels on opening day. We posted up and sat for about 30 minutes listening to the nearby sound of a squirrel going through its morning ritual of having breakfast. Not seeing anything though, Jake asked if we could move into the same location where I sat on opening day. We quietly made our way up a ridge into the exact spot I had been sitting when we heard the chatter of a squirrel in a nearby tree. Jake told me that he thought it was up a tree just in front of us so we both started scanning the canopy for movement. It took about 15 minutes and Jake spotted him first! I told him to get the scope on him and settle in for a shot. It took about a minute for the critter to settle down for a shot from the 'ol Jakester!

He drew down on it and popped off a shot, immediately the squirrel scurried behind the tree and started chattering at him. I told Jake to get ready and wait, he might come back out again. The problem was that Jake was free handing the shot. I told him to rest up against the nearby tree to steady his shot. The squirrel came down the tree and hit the ground eventually popping up on a little stick looking at us. Jake took careful aim and BANG! Down he went! Jake looked at me with a big grin and said, "I got him dad, I got him!" I noticed that the squirrel began to move and I was afraid he would run off so I put another round in him. Jake went over to pick him up and he began to move again, so Jake pulled up and touched the trigger one more time.

Jake's First Squirrel!

As he brought that squirrel back to me with that big grin on his face I was one proud dad! My boy has now become a hunter! After posing for a few photos, Jake was eager to get back to the hunt. We got a game plan together and did another push up towards a different ridge. Once we reached the top we heard more chatter. Jake saw movement in a tree up ahead and wanted to put a stalk on him. We quietly moved into position to a nearby tree for cover. Jake began to scan the tree tops again and found the movement, but this time it was WAY up top! He couldn't get into position to take a good shot so we waited. Finally he got to where he could see the squirrel and tried to put a shot on him. He missed, but the squirrel leaped down to the next limb in plain sight. I wasn't going to let him get away so I put the cross hairs on him and squeezed off a round that brought him to the ground with a dull thud! Jake looked at me and said, "You got him dad!" I couldn't have done it without you making him jump to that other limb, that is what I call team work I told him.

Number Two In The Bag!

It was getting late and I could tell Jake was getting tired so we made our way back to the truck to wrap up his first small game hunt. While on the way back to the truck I asked him if he know how to get back to the truck? He told me no, he didn't know where we were. While looping back through the wood lot I began to show him the odd little features that we saw on our way in. He picked up pretty quick on the direction we needed to head and I let him lead the way back out to the parking area. Without the aid of a trail he picked out the directions we needed to travel and he got us back to where we needed to be. He learned a little more than just how to hunt this morning. I remember getting lost in the woods with my dad a few times and I wanted to make sure that Jake knew how to keep his wits about him even in a small wood lot.

He was excited and tired from the day's hunt. As we made our way home he made the round of phone calls to let all the grandparents and family know that he bagged his first game from the woods! He told the story over and over with more enthusiasm each time he repeated it. I may have missed out on my early doe hunt today, but it was worth it! I got to spend time with my boy in the woods and watch him harvest his first game in the field! I wouldn't have it any other way!

On another note, he told me he wanted to make squirrel stew with his game. I asked him did he know how to make it and he told me he was going to use the recipe from Bob Rich from the "BR Shooting Journal", I can't wait to try it!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Michigan Squirrel Season Opening Day

I haven't hunted squirrels by myself in probably over 20 years. Opening day was coming, the kids were in school and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to get out by myself and do a little hunting without worrying about the cameras. The night before opening day I was to say the least a little excited.

Morning came and my wife informed me that I had to take the two oldest kids to school. Dog gone it! I just knew something was going to screw up my plans. Well I got my stuff together anyway and figured I could still make it to the woods about a half hour later than I wanted too. I got my turkey vest out and put my Thermacell in the pouch along with a box of .22 mag cartridges. I told my daughter to grab my vest and put it in the truck while I put my boots on, BIG MISTAKE! We left for school and then I headed to the state park after dropping them off.

While driving near the park I watched four deer cross the road in front of me, I thought this is a good sign to see game moving. It was bright and sunny with the sun just over the horizon. The air was crisp and cool with dew still on the grassy surfaces. This was a perfect morning to be in the woods. As I pulled into the entrance to the park three more deer crossed in front of my truck! I passed the guard shack and noticed one truck parked in the little lot near the booth. I thought I would drive back to hit the oak ridge near the big lake. As I came to the intersection, the road leading to the lake had the gate shut! I couldn't believe it, it should have been open for the goose hunters! I turned and drove to the other small lake near the campgrounds. That gate was also locked and the hunter parking area still had the rocks in front of the entrance, but there was a vehicle parked on the side of the road. It had to be another hunter in the wood lot already in the woods, so I turned and headed back to the small parking area by the guard shack.

I wasn't going to let a few little problems keep me out of the woods on such a great day. I parked and got out of the truck, grabbed the .22 mag rifle and slipped the clip with 5 rounds into the gun. I then went to grab the turkey vest and that is when I noticed that my daughter had forgot to put my vest in the truck like I asked her! Still determined to hit the woods, I told myself that I would have to just put up with the mosquitoes! I locked the doors on the truck and hit the trail leading into the woods.

I started towards the trail and couldn't have taken more than 10 steps into the woods when I heard a whistle from someone. I looked ahead and to my right and saw hunter's orange! MAN! I just can't win! This guy was no more than 50 yards from the parking area! I turned around and headed towards a field that paralleled him. I had walked about a quarter mile in waist high grass getting soaking wet when I saw a squirrel busting across a nearby tree top. I slithered into the woods near where I saw him and hunkered down next to a tree. I started looking around and noticed that I was surrounded by quite a few huge oak trees. This looked good!

As I sat down the mosquitoes began to buzz, but I was determined! It was about 10 minutes later when the woods became alive with chatter and noises. The squirrels began to bark back and forth, then I could hear them chewing on acorns and the scraps were hitting the forest floor. I just knew that I was going to get a crack at a few of them. The problem was that it was still so green and the canopy was so thick I couldn't see anything. It was still nice to just sit and listen to them, hoping to get a glimpse of them.

About a half hour passed when I began to hear some shooting to the south of me. It wasn't long until I could see orange coming at me. This guy must not have seen me until the last minute because he came within about 20 yards of me before he acknowledged me. I got up and chatted with him for a few minutes and learned that he already had three in his bag! Then I saw more orange coming our way, he told me that it was his friend. They left and I walked back near where I was at before they came in, I began to hear something overhead so I studied the canopy again for about 10 minutes with no luck. About that same time I saw more orange coming my way. I thought can this get any worse?

As I was watching this other guy come near me, I heard a gun blast about 50 yards behind me! It scared the day lights out of me! I never saw anyone behind me or any orange flashes in the surrounding woods. It was then that I said enough is enough! I started heading out!

As I broke back into the field, I noticed a downed tree and a squirrel had jumped up on it! I drew down on it and flicked the safety off. I put the crosshairs on the side of the squirrel and squeezed the trigger, SNAP! What the heck? I racked another shell into the chamber, but by that time the critter had moved on! I looked for the ejected cartridge but couldn't locate it since I was in waist high grass, even after getting down on all fours plowing through the weeds. I'm assuming it was a bad primer in the round since we have never had any issues with that firearm.

Soaking wet I made my way back to the truck and headed home! With all the bad luck that morning, I still had a great time spending some time out in the woods by myself listening to the woods come alive! I wouldn't have had it any other way!

Early Goose Season Take Two

If you've been following the website lately, you've noticed that we have added a few field staff members to our team. One of those members is Chico Lopez, who I was fortunate enough to spend five days in the goose field with this early season. Chico along with his friends Dave and Art were nice enough to invite Mikey and I along for almost a week's worth of fun!
Day two of the season started out EARLY, like 3 am early! Mike and I made our way up to Saginaw in the Mid Michigan area to hook up with our new found friends. As we got to the field, I was once again relegated to lawn mowing duty! Actually I found this to be a good way to help the time pass until shooting light. I don't know the first thing about setting up decoys so it makes me feel useful at least by gathering the vegetation to cover the blinds.

Mike's Banded Bird

It wasn't a gang buster day by no means, but we did get to see some flocks come our way, and one of those groups was a smaller group of four birds that made the mistake of flying in our "No Fly Zone". Two of the birds didn't make it out to tell the others. Mike downed one of the birds and it happened to be a banded goose! It was his first band ever! We shared in his joy of obtaining his first piece of jewelry for his lanyard. Dave took the other bird that was harvested that morning.

I didn't get to hunt the next day with them since work forced me to miss the hunting trip back north. Mike made it and they took 12 birds that evening! The following morning I managed to wake again at 3 am and get the boys up for the trip north once again. Jake, my youngest boy was in tow this morning for his first goose hunt ever! He was wide awake and pumped to hit the fields. Once we got their he pitched right in and helped get the gear into the field and brush up the blinds. Chico's buddy Art brought us out breakfast that he made that morning. Much to our delight we had breakfast tacos that were still warm! What a way to begin the morning.

The Saginaw Goose Connection!
Art, Mike, Chico, Dave

The action was slow this day also, but we did get a single flyer to come in and we thought we were going to get to see Jake take a shot at his first bird. As the bird came in close, Dave began to flag for some odd reason and the bird took off! We hammered him pretty good all day for that one! To this day we still give him grief, but hey that is what friends are for, right?

The next day I invited the boys to come down and hit one of the fields I had permission to hunt. This time they had to get up the extra hour early to make the trip down here! We hit the field and got set up early. I once again had the camera in hand and managed to get a flight of 12 birds coming in flying in formation to their demise! The boys unloaded on them and took 5 birds! After that I said, enough! I'm putting the gun in my hands. Two more flights came in and I managed to rip off a couple of shots and down a bird, but once Mike went after it the bird took flight again and was never seen again as it flew out of sight!
We gave Dan DeFauw a call early that morning and got him to come out to the field and run camera for us. We had one more chance at a group of birds, but when the shooting started Art forgot to reload his gun from the previous round. His birds managed to get away! After that we got to hear Chico bust out in song with a rendition of "I ain't got no shells in my gun"! We took home 7 birds that morning so it was another productive day.

Seven More Birds In The Freezer!
Mike, Chico, Art

The next day we scouted some new fields in the morning and then hunted back in Saginaw for that evening. We took UNJ staffer Chuck Parr with us to run camera for the hunt, but we didn't get to fire a single shot that evening. What would be my last early season hunt began the next morning with the boys coming back down to one of my fields.

We drug out Dan DeFauw again to run camera for us. We got set up in the middle of a alfalfa field that was bright green! The morning was extremely slow until Dan saw three birds coming in silent! Mike coaxed them in with his Lynch Mob call for them to meet their eminent doom! All Three birds went down to our four guns blazing! As the boys went to retrieve the birds one took flight again and made it out to live another day. With the morning being slow, we eventually decided to pack up. As I unloaded my shotgun, two birds came in overhead and high. We all dove into our blinds and reloaded as we watched them lock up and start to land. The bird to my left got popped by someone and then I drew down on the right side bird. I shot and Chico shot with the bird falling to the ground. I claimed the kill, but I know I had his help at downing the bird. We each got to take a bird home that day with 4 in the bag!

The Big Green Field!

It was a great way to start the hunting season, but I was also tired and worn out. I've never hunted so hard and had so little sleep in a week's time. Glad I get a little time to rest before bow season starts!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Early Goose Season 2009 Opening Day

This being my third year of waterfowl hunting thanks to my son Michael, I figured that I should probably try my hand at field goose hunting for the early season this year. Since we have made a few new friends that happen to waterfowl hunt, we hooked up with them and gave it a run!

Opening day we met up with Mossy Oak Pro Staff member John McNamara and a friend of his to hit the goose fields. I was excited to try my hand at videotaping Mikey's hunt to see what I could capture on tape. This was a completely new experience for me since I had never stepped into a goose field at all. They designated me as the lawn mower which I didn't mind, I had to gather up enough brush to camouflage four ground blinds.

With that task finished we hunkered down to get ready for the arrival of the flocks. I was amazed at just how fast and how many birds came in after day break. It didn't take long for the shooting to start and the excitement to begin! The first group came in and the three of them took seven birds! I was running two cameras and captured it all on video! What a rush to see the geese come in so low and noisy! Once the shooting stopped the three of them hit the fields running after their game! As they were in the fields more started to fly in. Back into the blinds they jumped!

Opening Day Harvest

Once again another round of shooting and seven more fell! The limit was 5 for each person so that was it for the harvest! As we gathered up our belongings and the birds, a neighbor lady came running into the field screaming and crying! We were upsetting her because we shot "her birds"! Oh boy here we go! After the boohooing and crying stopped she told us we couldn't hunt there anymore and she would see to it that we didn't, sure enough she had enough pull with the farmer that John lost that field. She actually told us she was an activist! Can you say hunter harassment! John didn't want to push the issue since the farmer had other fields he was allowing him to hunt.

This crap really upsets me, they squawk and we get shut down because the farmer doesn't want to deal with it. Come on guys! The farmers that want to continue to hunt, lease, allow people to hunt, etc… have to start standing up for their rights as well as the people he lets on his property! If you've been following my blogs and podcast you know how I feel on the issue. Since I was a guest on the hunt, I didn't say much!

Other than that though, the hunt was awesome and I was hooked even though I didn't carry a gun into the fields!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Watching Him Grow Up

This last week was the hardest, wildest and most fun week I've had hunting in a long time! We hooked up with some new friends and a new UNJ Field Staff Member (Chris "Chico" Lopez) on a wild week of Michigan Early Season Goose Hunting.

Mikey And His Opening Day Birds

Mikey and I started the week off by going with Mossy Oak Pro Staff Member John McNamara to one of his fields for opening day, then it was off to the crew from the north that I mentioned earlier. What was so unique about these hunts was how I watched Mikey grow right before my very eyes!

Mikey On Opening Day With A Few Of Our Friends

Sure I had fun running the camera and capturing video of our hunt and I had fun taking a few shots along with bagging my first goose, but the real excitement was watching Mikey do his thing. I have never seen him work so hard to obtain a goal that he coveted so much. He was in a zone all his own this week, working at getting the goose trailer ready to haul the gear out, making sure we had all the gear we needed and taking charge in the field with the calling. It was like watching an adult growing into his own out there. He worked well with all the guys in the field and when it came to the teasing and ribbing, he was right there giving it back along with taking it like one of the guys should!

Mikey Practicing His Calling In The Field

When the hunt was over, he was right there cleaning up and making sure everything was put away properly, not to mention he took care of all the game we harvested! The field dressing and cleaning of the meat was all his doing, making sure nothing was spoiled or wasted. I can't wait until he makes his goose jerky that he has been talking about!

Mikey With Art And Chico Gathering Up Birds

What I witnessed this week was a 15 year old boy becoming a man and taking charge of the situation. If he had his drivers license he could have done this without me and that is when I knew he was growing up and becoming his own person. He doesn't need me to tell him what to do anymore when it comes to the field, I can't wait to see him pass that tradition along to his kids one day! One down and three more kids to go. My job as an outdoors men father is 25% complete! I don't want it to go by too fast, but it sure is fun watching it happen! It makes all those troublesome times seem so far away now and it was all worth it!

A Morning Harvest With The Boys From Saginaw

I will post later on how our whirlwind week went later. I thought this post was more important than what we took from the field, so look forward to the posts of our 7 day adventure.